Gender justice.

Author:Gheaus, Anca
Position::Social costs of gender equality
  1. Introduction

    AT THE NORMATIVE HEART OF FEMINISM lies the belief that nobody should be disadvantaged because of their sex. Here I propose, and defend, a principle of gender justice meant to capture the nature of a very wide range of injustices based on gender. (1) In a nutshell, the principle says that, in a gender just world, a gender-neutral lifestyle would be the least costly option for both women and men. Gendered lifestyles need not be ruled out, but should not be achievable at lower costs than a gender-neutral lifestyle. This principle is grounded in the values at the core of liberal egalitarian justice: equality of access and the good of individual choice.

    Because the principle is meant to explain the injustice of a very wide range of phenomena, the sense of "costs" is similarly wide. Such costs can be material--for example financial, time or effort--psychological--self-respect, a good relationship with one's body and emotions--and social--such as reputation, social acceptance and valuable social relationships. (2)

    I illustrate my proposal by discussing the injustice involved in the gendered division of labor, which is one of the most important, yet philosophically disputed, gender issues in the developed world. Some liberal egalitarians contest that a freely chosen gendered division of labor is unjust. (3) Others believe that in order to know whether particular outcomes are gender just we need to pay attention to the context of people's choices, to the processes of preference formation and to the cumulative effects of particular choices. Some of the latter even doubt that liberal egalitarianism has the theoretical resources to recognize the gendered nature of the gendered division of labor. (4) I argue that it does.

    The gendered division of labor is also at the core of a long-lasting debate about two different models of change, embodied by different strands of feminism. Here is a crude picture. The first model, centered on equality between women and men, consists in empowering women to enjoy all the "good things of life" that men have traditionally enjoyed. The second model, centered on "difference," consists in discovering, explaining and enhancing the value of what has long been deemed "women's lifestyles." Traditionally, women have been associated with the spheres of the family, close relationships, domestic work and with the individual virtues believed (5) to make life in these spheres as good as it can get. Men have been associated with the complementary spheres of politics and commerce and their respective virtues.

    Since "feminine" as well as "masculine" functional spheres are necessary for individual survival and social reproduction, (6) both emancipatory models proposed by the two different strands of feminism have run into major difficulties. If women and men are to have an equal share of the good things in life by merely opening men's lifestyles to women, the question is: Who will do what it takes to maintain the spheres of family, close relationships and domestic work? Feminists who advocate "masculine" lifestyles for women have been criticized as compromising the quest for equality by relegating "feminine" work to the often-exploited women whose poverty, race or immigrant status pushes them to the margins of society. (7) The alternative possibility, that the entire "feminine domain" be outsourced, looks unappealing to most, and possibly not even coherent. (8) The second solution to gender justice, that is, making women and men equally well off by giving more recognition and economic support to "feminine lifestyles," was criticized for entrenching the gendered division of labor and therefore curtailing women's access to "masculine" lifestyles. (9)

    These solutions sacrifice either equality between women belonging to different classes/races/national groups, or women's substantive freedom to choose nontraditional lifestyles. Such sacrifices could be avoided if women and men were to voluntarily share paid and domestic work and their benefits. To some extent this has been happening for several decades, under a combination of pressure coming from markets and individual preferences alike. But women and men are still far from sharing all types of work and benefits equally, and sometimes women themselves seem to prefer the status quo. The question of what a gender-just world would look like is still as yet unanswered: How should women and men share the burdens and benefits of social cooperation, and why? Should we strive to accommodate all individual preferences concerning gendered lifestyles equally, and at what costs? And if all preferences cannot all be equally accommodated, which should be given priority and on what grounds? There is still a lack of normative agreement with respect to these questions. In the '60s and the '70s, feminists nourished the hope that men would engage as equal partners in domestic work, and the disappointment that this has not happened sufficiently has labeled feminism a "stalled revolution." (10)

    on the one hand, a new wave of academics from various disciplines seeks to legitimize individuals' gendered preferences and a society able to accommodate these preferences equally. (11) On the other hand, for almost two decades feminists such as Nancy Fraser have been advocating a universal caregiver model whereby women and men would share equally the paid work and the caregiving, (12) a model fleshed out in the work of Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers. (13) More recently, Ingrid Robeyns has argued that society will be gender just only when women's and men's capability sets, constraints on choice and resulting benefits are the same (allowing for inequalities resulting from sexual difference). (14) This paper shows why the gist of the latter proposals is correct. (15)

    Central to my project is the idea, for which I argue below, that gender norms oppress both women and men, and they would do so even if they were to leave men and women equally well off overall. This claim need not lead to paradoxical consequences because it is possible that, in fact, gender norms oppress women more than men, leaving the latter net winners. Nevertheless, if my argument is correct, in a gender-unjust world both women and men suffer injustice. (16) As well as identifying injustice, the approach I suggest could therefore also provide everybody with some motivation for change.

    I work with the classical distinction between sex and gender, with sex referring to biological features (chromosomes, sex organs, hormones and other physical features) and gender representing the social meanings associated with sex. (17) Because sex and gender map onto each other--albeit imperfectly--and because, as I argue below, gender norms are a source of injustice, I am framing the problem in terms of gender (in)justice. (18)

    The next section explores the scope of gender injustices, moving from the less toward the more controversial cases. The third section introduces a principle of gender justice, which subsequent sections explain, justify and illustrate.

  2. The Scope of Gender Injustice

    It is hard to dispute that women and men are equally entitled to just treatment and that, when someone suffers injustice because of their sex, they are a victim of gender injustice. But the exact definition of gender injustice and therefore the scope of gender injustice are contentious matters.

    Some forms of gender injustice are easy to identify. In many countries some kinds of violence against women are particularly high, often women receive lower pay than men for the same work and in some countries women still do not have legal rights equal to those that men hold. It is not difficult to see the problem in these cases. Widely endorsed conceptions of liberal egalitarian justice uphold people's moral rights to dignified treatment and physical integrity, to equal compensation for equal work and to equality in front of the law. If those directly responsible for the above injustices are partly motivated by hatred or prejudice against women, the victims of violence and discrimination do not just happen to be women--rather, they become victims of injustice because they are women. Hence, these examples are clear illustrations of gender injustice.

    other cases are a bit more difficult to describe as gender injustice or, indeed, as injustice full stop. Take, for example, women's "second shift." Significant numbers of women worldwide simultaneously hold full-time jobs and do most of the work that goes into maintaining households, raising children and caring for disabled or elderly family members. They are clearly shouldering more than their male partners. (19) Even worse, in case of divorce, women who used to be full-time homemakers and caregivers often find it hard to enter, or reenter, the labor market, and are much more likely than their former partners to fall into poverty--especially when they have children. (20) But these women seem to owe their situation to voluntary choices: neither laws, nor physical coercion, nor, strictly speaking, a lack of alternatives, forces them to take on double shifts (since it is possible to live without a male partner and without dependents, or to go on strike with respect to all but the most urgent care tasks). Moreover, some women say they enjoy being able to discharge several social roles successfully. Why are they then subject to gender injustice? one way to explain why is by assuming that people become double shifters as a result of adapting their preferences to fit gender norms and to avoid other types of hardship. Women have traditionally been, and still are, expected to meet the material and psychological needs of their nearest and dearest; and leading a solitary life, or going on strike, can be emotionally very costly (21) for most people. When alternatives are very undesirable, we often adapt our preferences to the status quo in order to make our circumstances more bearable. Action guided by adaptive preferences,...

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